Newsblur; Fricassee; old friends – 14/Feb/2019

Things I’m thinking about:

RSS Feeds

I’ve started using Newsblur again. I shut off Facebook a while back for various reasons (nothing drastic, just… tired, mostly), so my news has been supplied by a fairly limited set of channels.

Newsblur fixes that. It’s not just Newsblur, of course; you can use any of a number of feed readers, but Newsblur is the one that works best for me.

I’m enjoying it so far.

With that said: if you know of any sites that are new, flashy, interesting, relevant for … well, news, visual arts, philosophy, creating music, Python or Java programming, let me know! I may already have them in my feed, but I might not, and I want to grow my list of sources if I can.

Fricassee!

I looked up what a fricassee was, because I used it as a sort of joke dish. However, my use was copied from, like, Bugs Bunny back in the 1970s; I had no idea what a fricassee actually is.

Now I do:

A dish of stewed or fried pieces of meat served in a thick white sauce.

We learn together! (Unless, of course, you already knew what a fricassee was.)

Old Friends

I have no intention of living in the past – the “good old days” were the “bad old days” too – but I miss those friends with whom I’ve lost communication.

Social networking helps in a few cases, but it’s also so…ephemeral that it doesn’t really establish the connections that made us friends in the first place.

C’est la vie – a phrase I use far too often, I think.

Impressions

Things I think about sometimes:

  • I love the idea of being someone who might be described like “He only cares about the things that matter,” except loving that particular idea means that I… care about things that don’t matter. Darn it.
  • My DJ name is rather obvious: “43rd to the Q.”
  • Finally got a new phone! I’m thrilled – now I expect to make and receive calls consistently. I’m happy enough with it that I actually ordered a specialty case from Carved. Of course, now I’ve got to learn to use it again…
  • The culture we’re engendering, where being called out is a threat from every vector, is incredibly dangerous. But people keep feeding the mindset, because calling people out is fun, satisfying, rewarding… it’s “speaking truth to power,” ignoring a basic truth: we’re ALL guilty when the metric isn’t fixed and history remembers everything. The wheel turns, folks. If you see something offensive, especially if it’s from “the past” – which might be as recent as a few years ago, given Internet time – you might want to scowl to yourself and say “… people!” privately, instead of howling publicly…. because the beast that howls is coming for you, too. It’s coming for you, too. My goodness, we have people apologizing for having been born now.

Lorelai, Maven changelog plugin, the government shutdown

Things I have travelled across:

  • github-issues-maven-plugin generates a markdown file with a list of closed issues for a target milestone. Useful for creating release notes.
  • The death of a child is always heart-wrenching. 🙁 Rest in peace, little one, even though I only knew you through friends of friends.
  • Bless social media for bringing people together… except social media as a benefit assumes that people are basically good. If we can learn anything from the arc of human history, it’s that many people are basically good… and the bad actors ruin it for everyone. Social media is affected negatively by the presence of a few bad actors, and there’s no real way to fix it that I can see. Every fix is worse than the original problem.
  • I don’t quite understand why people are feeling victorious over Trump ending the government shutdown: all this means is that – for once – he adulted first. He, unlike his political opponents, managed to put the good of the country above his political aims. Sure, it was late… but he still got there first. Way to “win,” Democrats?

Places, football, Facebook

Things I have learned recently, I think:

  • Every so often, you figure out that you are exactly where you are supposed to be at this particular time. That can be reassuring or frightening, I suppose, depending on your outlook.
  • College football this year has been boring. Sure, I’m affected by not having a pony in the race (FSU missed out on bowl eligibility for the first time in close to four decades) but the quality of the bowls themselves hasn’t been that great: questionable officiating, a number of blowouts and games where the winners were easily predictable, and so forth. I don’t remember watching a single game that I’ve really enjoyed, apart from watching it with my wife and my son – that part’s been great. But I’m glad the bowls are over except for the championship. One more to go… and this one (Alabama vs. Clemson) gives me hope that it’s a competition.
  • I used one of the spray can dusters this morning on the MacBook Pro; it’s running more quietly, woohoo! — but I can’t get the taste of the residue off of my lips. No, I didn’t spray it at myself; it’s just in the air. Bleugh.
  • Yes, I deactivated my Facebook account and no, nothing’s wrong. It just takes too much time and attention away from other things.
  • I still don’t care for the Gutenberg editor in WordPress. What I’d really like is AsciiDoctor for WordPress… but I don’t know PHP, don’t want to learn PHP, and the available plugins for it are kinda eh, as far as I can tell. The last updates for the AsciiDoc plugins for WordPress are three years old… not a good sign.

Justice?, cats, resolutions, 2019

Things I’ve learned recently:

  • It’s tempting to write expressions of moral outrage, like “Does anybody remember justice?”, but then you remember that yes, most people do, but they’d rather reach for revenge or outrage instead. Justice takes too long. It’s also too easy for justice to accept that the wrongdoer might not be so wrong after all, so… yeah. Outrage! Revenge! So much easier!
  • Things I’d like to do more of in the coming year:
    • Exercise. In particular, get more core working better again – my back is a struggle for me.
    • Practice music, with dedication, rather than noodling a lot. I’d hope writing more music would fall under this, too.
    • Write more, and with more discipline.
    • Think of more resolutions worth implementing within reason.
    • Figure out this stupid Gutenberg editor, which seems fundamentally limiting for some reason.
  • I think “It’s no better to be safe than sorry,” a lyric from a-ha’s “Take On Me,” is an excellent indicator of political leanings.
  • Cats like to type. They type gibberish, though.
  • Happy New Year, everybody. May this year find you healthy, happy, productive, and manifest.

The Story of my Hand

Back in October 2016, I had a hospital stay, with surgery for an infection in my right thumb. In some ways, it’s not that big of a deal, in other ways it was a very big deal – they used terms like “life-threatening” after the surgery was successful. There’ve been some long-term effects, some physical, some intellectual, but by and large I’m fine now.

This is the story, the best that I can recall, but note that it’s been quite a while now and there were circumstances that make me a slightly unreliable narrator. With that said… this is still the best that I can recall.

It started with a sick cat. Something was wrong with her; she would spasm and go into fight or flight mode for about five to ten seconds, biting as hard as she could to address whatever it was. It was scary to watch, but we loved the cat so we were trying to take care of her.

She actually bit me hard enough to draw blood three times; twice on my left hand, once on my right hand. It was inconvenient and painful, but I thought I was okay. I’d clean out the injury, put Neosporin on it, and move on. There were no real effects from this apart from the local injuries themselves – but they did convince me to not allow my wife or my kids to try to take care of the cat, because I didn’t want them injured.

However, she bit my hand again one Sunday. I was trying to bathe her, and in the process she spasmed again – and latched hard, hard enough for me to lift her whole body up with her using her teeth to stay attached to my hand. She bit through the flesh of my left thumb, including one puncture on the pad of my thumb, and went through the meat of the second joint.

I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but I have to say, that hurt a lot. (Not the worst I’ve ever felt, but… let’s just say I’ll be happy to not repeat the experience.) After I managed to dislodge her, I finished bathing her, trying to keep the blood from my thumb from getting all over. After that, I cleaned the new wound and put more ointment on it, and bandaged it.

The next day was uncomfortable. I had to keep my left hand elevated. If I didn’t elevate it, there was a lot of uncomfortable pressure and some fluid leakage. I didn’t mind the fluids – I was trying to keep it drained – but something about it didn’t feel right.

The day after that – day two after the injury – I thought it was going to get better; I figured if it wasn’t better by the third day I’d go to a doctor. However, I did notice a red line following the vein, going up my arm to my elbow.

From what I can understand, this was a bad, bad, bad sign. But I’m a tough old bird, and I don’t fear any medical procedure except for amputation, so I didn’t really worry too much – what concerned me wasn’t the pain or the red line, but the fact that I couldn’t use my thumb at all.

The next day showed up, and the red line was less visible… but my thumb was still as swollen as it had been, and just as painful. My thought was that I needed to have the wound debrided (i.e., cleaned out).

So off to the walk-in clinic I went, because it certainly wasn’t an emergency, right?

At the walk-in clinic, I did the standard dance about insurance and conditions. (“It’s my thumb; cat bite.”) I finally got into an examination room, where a nurse came in to take my vital signs and pain level (on a scale of one to ten, a “six”), only to find that my blood pressure was through the roof. I don’t remember the numbers, but they were apparently astronomical, to the point where blood should have been squirting out of my eyeballs or something.

That’s very unusual for me; my blood pressure is normally right where it’s supposed to be, mid-to-low normal. It was concerning, I guess, because it was different from the norm, but I was at the clinic for a cat bite, so I kept trying to refocus their attention.

The nurse kept saying “We can treat that blood pressure, we need to get that down,” to which I answered “… cat bite.” My blood pressure was definitely on my radar at that point, but addressing my blood pressure was not the same as addressing the fire in my thumb.

After a few rounds with the nurses, the walk-in clinic’s doctor showed up: “Sooooooo, let’s see what we can do about that blood pressure!”

“… cat bite, you mean,” after which I held it up for him to see.

He saw.

That was the last he mentioned of my blood pressure.

I immediately got an x-ray taken, to have it sent to an orthopedic surgeon (like, within five minutes – which was the time it took for me to get my wedding band off.) He then called the surgeon’s office, and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After a while, the walk-in clinic’s doctor came up with a plan of action: I’d get intravenous antibiotics (I forget the name), with another battery of medicines to be taken orally, and I’d call in the morning and the evening to report progress. He then gave me the prescriptions for the medicines (and referred me to an emergency room for the intravenous antibiotics), and I prepared to go home…

… and then the clinic’s phone rang.

It was the surgeon. I didn’t hear that conversation – I only saw the doctor talking on the phone from a different room – but the walk-in clinic’s doctor laughed about it; he said that he (the walk-in doctor) described what his plan was to the surgeon, and the surgeon said “you know, that’s a great plan, I think you did a good job, but no, he is going to do this other thing.”

The surgeon said that I needed to go to the emergency room for a possible 23-hour stay (after which you have to be admitted, and everyone was trying to avoid that.) At the ER, I’d be monitored, my pain would be addressed (“this doesn’t look like a ‘six'”), and I’d get enough medicine to kill a goat. Then I would be able to go home and try the oral antibiotics.

“Well, that’s a plan, then,” I thought. (It was, in fact, a plan.) So my wife and I picked up my son from his school and traipsed off to the closest ER, which was a Women’s Hospital.

When I got there, everything went smoothly as one could expect; it’s never any fun to wait in an ER to be admitted, but I wasn’t bleeding out, and I was stable. They gave me the standard battery of questions (and had the same observation about my sky-high blood pressure) and everything progressed pretty smoothly, I guess. My pain was still about a “six.”

We finally got to an actual room in the ER, where they hooked me up to an IV and started pumping antibiotics and some pain medicines. I was bored out of my skull for about a bit, until they came in to ask me to have another set of X-rays taken – the first ones from the walk-in clinic were okay, but not good enough.

The pain medicines, by the way, didn’t do a thing. I went in with my pain at a six, and my pain remained a six.

After the x-ray, more boredom. I didn’t have a book, I had my wife and son, but they were bored; there’s nothing to do in a hospital but wait, really, and we were all trying to be patient. (I’m not good at being patient like that.)

After another hour or so, the ER doctor came in, and congratulated me. I was being admitted, but not at that hospital; like I’d said, it was a women’s hospital. Not being a woman, I needed to go to a different place. The plan was to admit me for long enough that the antibiotics could take hold, with surgery as an option if necessary.

Ambulance ride time! I’d never ridden in an ambulance that I remembered, so this was actually exciting.

I had to send my wife and son home, though. They needed to eat, they needed to recharge, I’d be fine.

The ambulance ride was interesting; I kept asking them to turn on the siren, but they wouldn’t. (And they shouldn’t have; I don’t fault them for this, but I also don’t fault myself for trying to get them to turn the siren on.) However, they also noted my sky-high blood pressure (like, nearly 80 points higher than it should have been, I think?)… and they actually addressed it.

They gave me a morphine derivative. I don’t remember which one it was (“fentanyl?” … yes, it was fentanyl), but they hit me with it and my blood pressure dropped like a stone back to normal levels. Whatever they hit me with, it was good. My pain dropped to … something, I don’t remember what it was (it still hurt) but I became rather calm and faintly silly (more so than I normally am), and they seemed satisfied with the result.

If it made them happy, I was happy too. I was in a good place, a mellow place, and the only drawbacks were I just couldn’t use my hand at all, and there was no siren. (There was no emergency, so obviously indulging me would have been ridiculous, and I wasn’t expecting it.)

Getting to the hospital was fine; they wheeled me up to my room in the orthopedic ward, and were quite nice. The bed was weird; I sank in it. I don’t think I ever quite got comfortable, but that’s okay; the bed did its job. It did bed-like things; I couldn’t ask any more from it than that.

The first nurse was great; she asked if I wanted anything, and I was starving by this point. I asked for something to eat – anything – and for apple juice. I wanted lots of apple juice; she asked if two containers would be enough, and I said, “Sure… as a start.”

She brought me a package of peanut butter crackers and two apple juices. By the time she’d opened the crackers for me (as I was one-handed) the apple juices were gone, might I please have some more?

She got me more apple juice. I inhaled those, and asked for more apple juice.

I don’t know how much I actually got down, but I didn’t feel like trying her patience past a certain point; I stopped asking for more. She was nice about it; I was okay, and stable, and no longer as thirsty as I was.

Somewhere along the way, a set of doctors came in to examine my hand and ask me about everything with it. I explained; I asked about the options. They gave me the rundown, from antibiotics (the passive plan), to surgery (a “possibility,” with a range of outcomes, one being a new life as Nine-Fingered Joe.)

I was not having that last option. No way, no how, no body, no nothing. Amputation was off the table. They could do whatever they wanted to, but I was leaving the hospital room in one piece, even if it was in a body bag.

The morning nurse came in for the pre-dawn shift, an awesomely sarcastic fellow named “Chuck.” He was great; bantered with me about the injury, scolded me for not taking it seriously enough. Constantly made jokes about amputation. I liked Chuck, he was great, but the amputation jokes were not funny, Chuck. I mostly asked Chuck for more apple juice.

He brought me some, but only a little; he, um, said that someone had asked for enough apple juice to empty the ward’s supply and that he’d have to scrounge to find more. I said nothing of who I thought the culprit might be.

To his credit, he actually borrowed some apple juice from other wards to bring me some. Like I said, Chuck was great, except for those amputation jokes. (They were not funny, Chuck.)

Then they came for me. There was no-one left to speak for me – oh, wait, this is just a story of my hand, and not apocalyptic literature from Martin Niemöller.

They did actually come get me in the morning. From what I can tell, all of the stuff they kept telling me about antibiotics and waiting to see what would happen was irrelevant; they knew I didn’t particularly want surgery, but it wasn’t really an option. They had kept reminding me that it was a possibility, and in the morning, it went from the “possible” to the “it’s going to happen in a few minutes.”

I really don’t know if they ever entertained the thought of not operating. I guess they were willing to see if the antibiotics would attack the infection quickly, but it’s hard for me to tell; one way or the other, I was going into surgery.

Surgery was rather surgery-like; I prepped (which didn’t involve much, being just on my hand), I waited, I was bored. After surgery prep, they anaesthetized me, then moved me into the operating room, which I saw briefly but barely remember after that, and then I was out.

Things apparently happened when I was out.

I woke up a few hours later, back in my hospital room; my wife and youngest son were there. My hand felt like it’d been hit with a brick. A heavy one. One that hurt.

My pain was finally above a six… and the staff had decided that my pain tolerance levels were off. What to me was a “six” was a “ten” to them. If I said I was at a four, it was time to hit me with sedatives; a six, or a seven, was serious business. I thought this was an overreaction, but … what did I know? I spend most of the time there apparently on a morphine high.

After that, it was all downhill. I was on an antibiotic schedule; my hand hurt like it had been scraped out (and it had); I acquired a new set of stitches, and a bunch of funny dreams. I woke up in the middle of the night after my surgery, shaking with anger at the nurses, because I had a dream of a dead, beached whale… and the hospital staff wouldn’t help… the dead… whale. In my dream. I was apparently castigating the staff, gently. I can’t imagine what that sounded like.

I actually got out of the hospital a day or two later; one of my sons had a football game, and while it might not have been bad for me to stay in the hospital a bit longer, I was on my way out of the woods, and I didn’t want to miss my son playing football. I had to change and clean my dressings; not a big deal, it wasn’t comfortable but it wasn’t bad, either.

I still only have about 85% of my left hand’s range of motion. My left arm is also notably weaker than it was, and probably always will be; there’s a ribbon of scar tissue under the skin, running from my left thumb up to about halfway up my forearm. (That’s where the infection had traveled, and what I think made the surgeons decide to act so fast – if it’d kept on going, I’d be typing this as a ghost.)

I resumed giving blood to the Red Cross not too long ago; I think they used five units of blood on me during surgery, and this wasn’t even a major surgery – nothing like heart surgery or anything like that, probably among the lesser operations that I myself have had.

We still miss the cat.

The Golden Rule

I’ve been thinking about the Golden Rule lately, and it’s confusing and difficult for me. It’s also confusing and difficult to express.

I am fairly certain that this post will come across as whining and petulant. Who knows, maybe it is – but I don’t think so, and that’s not the intent with which it’s being written.

Here’s what I know of the Golden Rule, offhand:

Somewhere in Judaism’s past, the “Silver Rule” came into being. It’s pretty simple, and pretty ethical, and actually pretty awe-inspiring in scope – as in, “Why didn’t people think this already?” The Silver Rule is this: “Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.

So if you really don’t appreciate the idea of someone walking behind you and bonking you in the head with a shoe… don’t go around walking up behind someone else and bonking them with a shoe. It’s a simple way to restrain dumb and potentially harmful impulses. Don’t take advantage of something for your own gain or amusement if you wouldn’t like someone else doing the same thing over you.

It’s essentially a negative rule, a restriction: do not do something if it fits this simple criteria. If you wouldn’t appreciate it, assume others wouldn’t appreciate it, and hold off, you goober.

Jesus Christ, however, recorded something that I honestly think is better, the “Golden Rule.” It’s worded positively instead of negatively.

The Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’m probably paraphrasing; it’s Matthew 7:12 in the Christian Bible, if you want to look it up and verify.

It’s a positive requirement. Figure out what someone might want, and do it, as opposed to the Silver Rule’s far more passive form of “Figure out what you don’t want, and avoid doing that.”

So far, there’s nothing petulant or whiny in this post, and I’m glad for that.

Here’s where this post gets whiny. Again, I’m not trying to complain, I’m just speaking from my own experience, and I’m personalizing it because it’s me. I thought of trying to write a story to illustrate the point, but I’m just too tired.

I try to follow the Golden Rule. I really do. I think that Jesus had the right idea of it, and if we all tried to follow it, the world would be a better place. Maybe it wouldn’t be healed, but it’d be a better place.

I look at those friends I can identify and attach to – which isn’t easy, because I’m not a person who forms attachments easily. Innately, I tend to have two friends at any given time in my life.

I am at war with myself over things like that. Right now I have … gosh, nearly twenty people I’ve forced myself to see as my “inner circle.”

TWENTY. I … when I tried to do a count, and came up with that, I was stunned. I’m still stunned as I write this, actually. For me, having that many people to actually care about is pure and simple madness. Insanity. Daunting beyond belief. Impossible, really.

Really. And truly. Impossible. I can’t do it.

And I don’t say that because I’m trying to get sympathy or whatever – it’s an admission of failure, not a cry for attention. It’s a flaw in my psyche that I can’t actually do it.

But I’m trying anyway.

So the question is: what does it mean to be in my “inner circle?” It means that I try to keep in mind your struggles and triumphs, and share in your burdens. I know details about where you’re employed, what you do, what you care about, what your goals are, what you’re going through. Certainly not every detail – I don’t know exactly which elementary school you teach at, Melissa, nor do I know what campus you work at, Jennifer – but dang it, I am trying despite such details having no direct impact on my life whatsoever and therefore, to my mind, being absolutely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

But those things are relevant to the people I have decided to care about. So I apply the Golden Rule, and I care. I make myself care. I make myself ask. I try to remember despite those details having little context in the matrix of my thought patterns. (I remember details by way of their association to patterns, so details with little context are verrrrry difficult for me to retain. It drives my wife crazy.)

Here’s the thing: out of the twenty people in my inner circle, the ones for whom I apply the Golden Rule as harshly as I can… I’m sure they care. I just can’t tell.

I hit a low point recently. One person in my inner circle knew about it. Others saw it.

Think about that, if you would.

Out of twenty people, a full one took notice and said “Hey… can I help?”

It made me think: is this normal? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the question, and because I’m me, I told the truth and said, “no,” nor do I resent the people who didn’t recognize it (really and truly, I don’t) — but daaaaaaaaaaaang.

If we, as a people, can’t recognize when the people around us who are supposed to be close to us are struggling… why? Why aren’t we watching?

We see all these school shootings and we wring our hands and say “Don’t forget to connect to the people around you! Prevent stuff like this!” — and I think it’s easy to conclude that connection to others is the key. (Banning guns is stupid; game theory illustrates that it simply makes the problem worse without addressing a first cause. Sorry, gun banners. You’re barking up the wrong stop sign.)

So if we say “Yes, connect to others…” great, but why don’t we do it?

I live in a Christian world. Jesus had two “great commandments” for Christians: to love the Lord, and to do unto others as they would have done to themselves. Looking around, and without trying to criticize, I wonder if we try either one of those… and why.

Needs are often subjective, even if we don’t recognize that

How much pain could be forgotten if we remembered that many of our needs are subjective?

They’re not all subjective, of course… if you take something from the base of Maslow’s pyramid from a person, that person will logically and realistically suffer. Air, food, water, shelter… all critical to human survival.

But love? Self-esteem? The iPhone X? Companionship? All desirable, no doubt… but subjective needs. If I want an iPhone and don’t have one, I have options:

  • Endure (because the need’s not real; it’s a desire, instead)
  • Complain
  • Act…
    • Improperly (steal one somehow, or lash out until my desire is fulfilled)
    • Properly (buy one, choosing the iPhone over other things I might use the money for)

To be clear, an iPhone is a made-up desire for me; I have an Android phone and I’m satisfied with it. Even if I wasn’t satisfied with my phone, I wouldn’t find an iPhone to be a compelling investment; a cheaper phone would do everything I needed.

But you can say the same thing about most desires: they’re subjective. They’re not concrete things to satisfy… and they’re easily replaced. Get an iPhone today, and tomorrow that desire might be for a virtual reality rig instead, with similar intensity.

It’s easy to get confused, to say that your needs (or my needs) are needs and not desires, are concrete and not subjective… and when they go unfulfilled, we get angry, and angry people are stupid people.

What needs do you have? What needs do you have that don’t actually affect your survival from day to day?

About “Two Wishes”

This is a post of liner notes, sort of, about “Two Wishes,” a story I posted a couple of months ago. I normally enjoy such author’s notes myself, but I also understand that they sometimes erode what magic a story has, so I wanted to keep these in a separate post.

“Two Wishes” is basically a story where a man leaves two wishes on the table, after wishing for something that removes the circumstances under which he received the wishes in the first place. Along the way, I wanted to think my way through something in my own past.

That “something” is still in fictional form; there’s an “Anna” in real life but only some of the things “Two Wishes” mentions actually happened the way they’re described. It’s still fiction. If “Anna” were to read it, she’d probably recognize some of it from my perspective, but she’d also point out a lot of things saying “That’s not what happened.” And she’d be right. (And she’d be horrified at their representation in “Two Wishes,” too.)

The protagonist isn’t me. Nor is “Anna” actually “Anna.” My wife is fine (in more ways than one). And I’m not actually spending my days stewing over events from when I was a teenager, not in the sense that “Two Wishes” presents. (Or so I hope – the protagonist has some serious mental issues going on, and I hope I don’t have those issues.)

I also wanted to avoid the “Hero’s Journey.” The protagonist doesn’t rebound; he learns, I guess, but the Hero’s Journey is too simple for what I wanted. I wanted to have that leap made on the part of the reader, not the protagonist. I wanted the protagonist to simply be.

Inspirations

The inspirations for this story, and the resources from which it draws, are many.

  • Roger Waters’ “Three Wishes” was very influential. In the original draft, the genie quoted Waters nearly word for word: “Genie said I’m sorry / But that’s the way it goes / Where the hell’s the lamp, sucker / It’s time for me to go / Bye” after Waters’ protagonist used up his wishes before realizing what it was he really wanted.
  • Frank Herbert, with “Who is this who feels?” Poor Alia. Of all the tragedies represented in Dune, Alia’s slow descent was always the most terrifying to me.
  • Asimov’s “Bicentennial Man.”
  • Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
  • Demonology, of all things. Asmedi is a representation of “Ashmedai,” a prince of demons (also known as “Asmodeus.”) He was the lord of envy, supposedly. Britt, too, is a demon lord; his name is supposed to be Berith, and he represents homicide. The protagonist envied his own youth, and murdered his own present existence.

Some thoughts, as they occur:

  • I enjoyed writing “Britt’s Olde Shoppe of Ye Antiquities” far too much. Hopefully no shop uses a name as badly formed as that. “Ye Olde Shoppe of Antiquities” is humorous enough as it is. The proprietor was originally described as having a teardrop tattoo on his eye, in an attempt to foreshadow his true nature, but it stuck out like a sore thumb as I kept re-reading. I kept thinking “a good editor would tell me to remove that, but I love that it’s there!” … and then I realized that I am supposed to be my own editor, and removed it.
  • The bit about the antique incandescent bulbs felt a little the same as the tattoo reference – I love the old-school bulbs, so that’s why I put it in. But I found that it actually served a role; the bulb represents the protagonist’s affectation for the past, and it’s his investment in the lamp with the past that “frees” Asmedi.
  • As usual, I hate dialogue. Want to know why? If you’ve read “Two Wishes” and thought “Gosh, did George Lucas write this dialogue?,” well, you know why – and what’s sad is that that form of formal interaction is pretty natural for me when I’m stressed. Hopefully, no “Yippee!” moments, though.
  • Asmedi’s closing statements actually used a form similar to his original conversation with the protagonist. In the original drafts, he switched to an informal, almost jive form of conversation: “So long, sucker!” It made sense to me and still does – Asmedi was a deceiver – but I thought the change was too subtle to be useful. Any other reader (i.e., someone who wasn’t the author) would read it and think the author was just being lazy.
  • Asmedi is, as stated, a demon lord. And I used djinn because I don’t like the term “genie,” and because, by golly, in Arabic mythology the people of air were djinni and not genies. Yes, I’m being ridiculous.
  • I, the author, would have recognized Asmedi’s name as being one of the demon lords’ names, but not Berith’s name.
  • In the overall flow: Berith showed the protagonist a door, Ashmedai opened it, and the protagonist walked right on through.
  • I struggled with writing anything about the car accident here; I described it very simply, because going into any detail – even in a fictional account where the events were not the same as in real life – was too traumatic for me. I don’t know how to write it cathartically, so I danced around it. (More about this later.)
  • Why was the protagonist a widower? Simple: I didn’t want him to have an affair. I didn’t want his trip back to imply infidelity to his wife. That wasn’t who I wanted the protagonist to be.
  • I don’t know if the English that Asmedi used is accurate “Old English” or not. It feels somewhat right, but I don’t know if the rendering is entirely correct. I’m okay with that. For him it’s all an act anyway.
  • The break between Anna and the protagonist in his second life has a real-life analog, sadly. If anything, that event (the wreck) ranks as one of the worst moments in my life, in a life filled with, well, a life’s worth of tragedies; if I really did have a wish I could use for others, I’d erase that wreck. (Like I keep saying, the protagonist is like me but isn’t me.) But I wasn’t there; I found out about it a while after it had happened (and the funerals had already taken place by the time I found out about it.) I truly loved “Anna” – the real one – and I truly loved the people who were in that accident. I’ve never gotten over it, and probably never will.

Fiction: Two Wishes

I have lived two lives.

In my first life, when I was old, I wandered through a shop of antiques looking for a lampstand. My cat had finally knocked over my wife’s light; it was a gift for her from years before, given by one of my sons, and while I couldn’t repair or replace it, its loss left an empty space in my heart.

My wife was dead.

She had passed away years before; some defect had lain in her body like a time bomb, undetected and malign. She passed away silently, and I hope comfortably and peacefully. The back-and-forth we shared wasn’t always pleasant but it was always beneficial; she was the rudder for my life. I missed her and will always love her.

The cat she’d named and that we shared had been playing – a vision of his youth, I’d guess, as he was at the same point in his life as I was. Running across a coffee table, he’d miscalculated and collided with the lamp – and down it went, into thirty pieces of porcelain.

It was just an ordinary lamp, but it was associated with my wife and therefore it held value for me, too.

Therefore, I found myself wandering, looking for something that resonated with me, that reminded me of my wife – hopefully something she would have liked. I could have bought a new lamp, but I wanted something with its own memories to imagine, something that would have interested my wife.

I found it in Britt’s Olde Shoppe of Ye Antiquities, amused by the name. It was not a large store – like many such places, I imagine, it was packed with oddities and knick-knacks, full of brass and dust. However, one desk had a vase with a light affixed to it – and that, I thought, was a worthy candidate. It was old, it was unique, it looked easy enough on the eyes, the colors matched my furniture – this was my lamp.

I took it home. It was overpriced, but I had the money for it; I was replacing memories, not just a source of light. The proprietor told me some story of the lamp, in an attempt to inflate its value; that was all right, because I would have assigned it a narrative in any event, and it was a way to pass the time.

I put it on the table and then went on about my life.

A week later, I finally had occasion to use it – I was sitting down to read, and, well, I needed light. Turning it on, nothing happened – the bulb had worked in the store, but here, nothing. I replaced the bulb with an old-style incandescent bulb, not because it had better light – it didn’t – but because I liked the feel of the older, dimmer bulbs.

The first moment after I turned the lamp on was strange – a vibration ran through the air. I heard a sound like a hundred voices in ecstasy in the distance… and then he appeared.

I could not believe it – such things don’t happen. Perhaps I was having a stroke, ready to join my wife in the World to Come.

Smiling, he said, Thou art not ready to pass away. No, O Man, thou hast instead come upon great fortune. Thou hast freed me from my long imprisonment through thy echoing of the past.

“Are you… a djinn or something?” I asked, trying to reconcile this apparition with anything I could relate to.

A djinn, he said, his eyes locked onto mine. Yes… a djinn is a worthwhile name for such as I. I am Asmedi, and as a djinn, I am prepared to grant thee three wishes, such as are within my power. Three thou may ask, no more; further, they are thy wishes, none others’, and I cannot and will not change the course of the world for such as thou art. Lastly, one day’s passing only dost thou have to make thy requests.

My heart leapt. I might be rich; I might be powerful; I might have my wife back. Would those things change the world? I didn’t know.

But first, I needed to revisit a great wrong I’d done in my youth, something that had colored everything afterward. Repairing that wound would have made the course of my life easier; it was a pain that had lingered, even as a relatively small thing compared to the course of human events.

When I was young, I didn’t know how to be myself. I had been suppressed because of personal illness as a child, disempowered as part of the process for my treatment, and as I matured and was put into new circumstances, I acted the part of someone used to personal power and charisma. I played the part of a better, more confident, stronger version of myself whenever in the presence of anyone else; I was combative, secretive, irascible. It was my way of seizing control over my own life, by owning and manipulating the relationships I formed with others.

It was not a positive aspect of my personality. It was motivated by fear, but it was the only coping mechanism I’d had.

Through it all, though, stood one woman: Anna. Somehow we attracted each other; that I was attracted to her was unsurprising, as she was beautiful and intelligent and kind, but I would never have expected her to be attracted to me.

But she was.

We only had a year together, in varying degrees. We were good friends, and gradually progressed beyond Platonic friendship while not breaking the bounds of true propriety: we were casually, gently falling in love.

And one fine summer day, I looked at who I was in my relationships, and who she was, and thought: “This is a woman with whom I could spend the rest of my life.” But I was projecting a callow image of who I was; I was not actually the same person that she thought she knew. She saw my desperation, but not my fear. She saw my love for her, but didn’t understand its true nature; she was becoming an anchor to a reality in which I did not have to wear a mask.

And I was lying to her about who I was, without even truly realizing it.

So I did what any young fool would have done: I broke up with her. “I don’t think we need to be seeing each other…” ten simple words, and I broke the two of us apart. I shattered us, and shattered myself for years.

I had had a plan, of course. My goal was to examine myself, to peel back the layers of my own masks, to figure out who I was. I would then move heaven and earth to show her who I was, to win her heart as myself and not a projection.

I was not successful.

We lost communication after that; her father was killed in an automobile accident, and her mother was crippled; when I went to the hospital to try to offer my condolences and any support I could provide, she interacted formally, more coldly than simple grief would explain.

I do not remember my last words to her. I had not had the time to figure out who I really was, and her trust for me had been broken.

I carried around the pain of losing her, and her loss of her family, for years, even though we lived completely separate lives. I no longer knew anything of her life, and I felt that she never actually knew me at all.

It was a regret that colored everything.

And there I was, an old lamp burning and a figure telling me that I could have three wishes…

I knew what my wishes would be. One would be to have my beloved wife back. Another would be for personal comfort.

But first… I told Asmedi that I wanted to change what I had done to Anna, to go back to the week before I destroyed our relationship, knowing what I do. I wanted to relive it, and give her what I always wished I’d offered her, and avoid the pain for both of us.

Asmedi smiled, coldly, cruelly, knowingly. I understand thy wishes, O Man. Now let the first be granted… and he opened his mouth with his hands impossibly wide, and smoke and light poured out.

I blinked, and immediately sweat appeared on my forehead – the temperature had gone up by twenty degrees. I was suddenly wearing jeans and a baseball shirt – and my hair was thicker than it had been. I found myself in my father’s house as it appeared before it was consumed by fire, from decades earlier.

I was home.

I had a hard time reconciling myself with myself. My body was younger; I was easily thirty pounds lighter. I felt displaced, and as if I were two people – and in a sense, I was. I remembered my life as I’d lived it – and I remembered my life as it was when I was young. I knew phone numbers. I knew addresses. I remembered my class materials… and I remembered Anna more clearly than I had in decades.

Oh, how I remembered Anna.

Without the intervening years to provide distance, my heart ached for her. I had not remembered how passionate I was – and being young, she pervaded everything I felt.

How had I not told her this? How had I not shown her this? How could I have lived, hiding how much of a totem she was for me, how much of a lodestone she had become for me, even then?

I did not know. The part of me still stuck in my youth couldn’t comprehend the majesty of thought that the older version of myself had brought. I found myself schizophrenically asking myself, “Who is this who feels? What is this? Why is everything so different?”

My younger aspect was having trouble reconciling my mindset. Younger me had woken up with a vague sense of needing to change, to become, to be… and older me had integrated with a full sense of what the changes actually had needed to be, with more perspective on the chain of events that formed my life.

It was overwhelming, but simple: I went upstairs to find a phone, hoping my parents were out – and they were – and called long distance. It was odd having her phone number on hand; the older aspect of who I was couldn’t quite remember even the area code.

She picked up. At her greeting, I couldn’t quite answer – my emotions were too strong, my relief too great. In my older life, I’d not heard her voice for over forty years; in my younger life, it’d not even been a day.

I finally choked out that I wanted to see her, wanted to be with her, not to do anything special, but just to be with her.

It startled Anna. For one thing, we’d been hanging out the day before, and for another, something was off in my voice. I’d always been slightly nonchalant with her; when we were together, I loved the time with her but I was still essentially self-centered; I was with her because it pleased me. But as an older personality, I was more willing to serve – something in my voice communicated that I wanted to be with her for her sake and not mine, I think. To my everlasting gratitude, she accepted and said she’d be on her way.

I was young; I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet.

After that, I lived in a dream, a haze of memory and emotion. I dodged my family, for the most part (which wasn’t difficult, as we lived in the same house but had our own lives), and spent as much time as I was able trying to reconcile who I was, emotionally, intellectually, and physically… when I wasn’t thinking about Anna.

She wasn’t sure what to make of me. From her perspective, I’d gone from a faintly controlling, internally-focused young man to someone who’d discovered empathy overnight. I learned more about her than I ever had known, and I was ashamed of that: I learned that she was a somewhat-faithful Methodist, her family came from the south of Spain, that she wanted to be a scientist. She loved country music – and I learned which singers. I learned her favorite colors, her favorite sports, and that she felt pressured to be a cheerleader while not actually caring that much about it. I learned that she thrived with touch – as did I – and that she saw herself as a little bit unworthy of praise.

I discovered that my younger self was a bit of a jerk for not having known all this before.

Thank God for Asmedi.

Our lives progressed; our relationship was still somewhat Platonic (she wanted to wait until marriage before going “all the way,” and I was fine with that). She was accepted at the local university, about which I was inordinately proud for her. I was watching her blossom into a lovely woman, and I was thankful that I was with her.

Thank God for Asmedi.

I still remembered my old existence: my wife, my sons, my life. I wasn’t sure how to resolve my old and new existences; I figured that my time with Anna would find a peaceful resolution, one without the recurrent pain I remembered, and both of us would find a new equilibrium.

But at the time, I was ferociously happy. No more was I as selfish as I was; my grades had improved, my commitments had improved, and I still had Anna.

Thank God for Asmedi.

One day, I was riding with her father to buy her a Christmas present. I was pensive; I was thinking of my new life and how permanent it seemed. I felt like it was time for he and I to talk as men.

I mentioned to him that I truly loved and respected his daughter – and I did.

I said that I knew it might be a little much, but that I was considering spending the rest of my life with Anna.

I remember his next words distinctly.

He said: “You’re still a little young for th-”

That’s when the truck hit us.

They said that the driver simply ran a stop sign. The impact indicated that he’d been going anywhere from forty to fifty miles per hour. I don’t know. All I know is that I woke up while being pulled from the car, unharmed… while Anna’s father was dead, killed in the initial impact.

Anna’s relationship with me changed after that. I did not attend her father’s funeral, at her request.

Shortly after New Year’s, she stopped answering the phone for me, stopped returning my calls. I was grieving, and trying to respect her grief, and I was unable to cross the bridge of loss. She associated me with the death of her father, and I could not blame her.

We lost touch, just as we had decades before in my real life. But without my own agonizing realization of who and what I was and what I should become, I wasn’t in the right place to meet the woman who became my wife. She’d been a very casual acquaintance for me before we truly met each other – my grandparents knew her family – and when I casually inquired about her, I was informed that she’d married a high school sweetheart.

I was alone.

I called for Asmedi. I called upon God. I called upon a cold universe. There was no answer.

Anna moved on. She met someone while she was at the university. They got married, had kids, and were happy as far as I could see from afar.

I never found anyone to replace either one of them: neither Anna nor my wife. I was able to form casual acquaintances, but no relationships were able to form such that I was truly able to attach myself to anyone else.

I had friends, certainly; I even had the occasional date. But of them, nothing really grew. Nothing could. Even my cats were gone. My heart became a stone, and I waited and watched for Britt’s Olde Shoppe of Ye Antiquities, painfully contorting my life to recreate the circumstances under which I’d found the lamp.

And one day, long after the point in my old life where I’d found the lamp, I came across a man dressed in shadow, who looked like Asmedi had. He greeted me, and said, laughing: Has your first wish met your expectations, O Man? But now, thou hast not rescued me; thou hast no wishes. And it is time for me to go…